He receives threats from various media outlets every week. Frequently checking his e-mail on a laptop, he finds an update from his lawyer about his latest lawsuit, brought by a TV-show host who objects to being labeled an “extreme leftist” even though the purpose of this particular host’s show is to criticize French media for not being left enough.
Philippe Karsenty’s last lawsuit, won in court, was brought by the website proche-orient.info, which Karsenty accused of taking its marching orders from Jacques Chirac. The lawsuits are wearing on him by demanding so much of his time and money. Perhaps that is the goal of his adversaries. Karsenty is not well-loved by the French media, and thereby the French government, which runs the French television stations that he has taken on directly.
Karsenty’s Media Ratings is a French media watchdog organization, and for all its lawsuits and threats of lawsuits brought on by its daily efforts to expose bias in the French media, its oldest charge will only be coming to court this September. Karsenty accused state-run television station France 2 of perpetrating a fraud upon the world by reporting that Israeli soldiers shot and killed the Palestinian boy Mohammed al-Dura in 2000. The 55 seconds of video, taken by Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma and distributed at no charge to media around the world by France 2, is regarded as a major catalyst for the second intifada.
Theatrics heard round the world
Do you remember the Mohammed al-Dura video footage? The Muslim world does. The video shows a Palestinian father and son cowering against a wall, apparently taking cover from what sounds like an erratic spray of bullets, allegedly coming from IDF soldiers. The next scene in the video is of the father slumped over, as if injured, and the boy lying down, his face in his hands, apparently dead. Inexplicably, the actual shooting of the boy is not on the video, rather there is a cut to the end result.
The French reporter, Charles Enderlin, who presented the story on French television, claimed later that the actual shooting to death of Mohammed al-Dura was edited out because it was too gruesome. Karsenty asserted to France 2 that the entire video had been staged.
A simple Internet search of “Mohammed al-Dura” will turn up not only the many pro-Palestinian sites dedicated to the memory of their martyr, but analyses from several different sources explaining why the video is so phony it may as well have been performed by the puppets from “Team America: World Police.” Although France 2 vehemently denies the charge, it has not produced footage of the actual shooting and, rather than accept responsibility for participating in this fraud and publicly retract the story, they have allowed it to stand.
The al-Dura video became a rallying cry around the Muslim world, a bitter symbol of Israel’s alleged oppression of the hapless Palestinians. The image of little Mohammed seeking shelter with his father has been commemorated on postage stamps in Egypt, Jordan and other Muslim countries, and an image of the father and son was featured on a poster in the background of the Daniel Pearl beheading video. France 2, meanwhile, has socked away the original video and brought a lawsuit against those who have accused the station of fraud.
The al-Dura video became a rallying cry for another group: media critics like Karsenty who question the veracity of video footage coming out of the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories and broadcast by media worldwide.
The al-Dura video raises two questions: What is the motivation for fabricating media-supported material, and why is the media so willing to broadcast it? The answer to the first question seems obvious: to foment rage against Israel and the Western world in the Muslim street. The answer to the second question is the business of Karsenty’s organization, Media Ratings. It is the hypothesis of Media Ratings that the French media, upon which the organization is focused, has a powerful bias to the left. This bias causes the government-run French media to want to show the al-Dura video because it supports their anti-Israel agenda. But the media go ever further and become apologists for Muslim violence.
During a panel discussion in Los Angeles, which included Victor Davis Hanson and Walid Shoebat, Karsenty presented a montage of the Paris riots from this past November to illustrate what the French media were showing on television versus what was really going on. The Muslim men burning cars and chanting in the streets were referred on the TV news as “les jeunes” – the youths. The chants of the rioters, “Sarkozy sale juif!” (Sarkozy, dirty Jew!) was changed to “Sarkozy, fascist!” in the captioning of the news clips. Why was the French media, the government, disguising the fact that the rioters were Muslims and that their chants were anti-Jewish? According to Karsenty, the French are afraid. Muslims, now 10 percent of the French population and growing, are an intimidating force in France.
Karsenty was asked during a Q&A session after the panel presentation about the public service announcements the government has been running, encouraging people to be tolerant of Jews. The questioner seemed to feel the PSAs were a positive turn of events. Although having to occasionally search for words in English, Karsenty approached the microphone and confidently declared, “It’s bull––.” Surprised by his frankness, the audience hesitated a moment before laughing and then applauded. He later elaborated that the underlying tone to the tolerance ads was something to the effect of: “The Jews are OK. You can like them. See the dirty Jews? They’re OK …”
Lest anyone think these television spots were directed toward a Muslim audience, Karsenty explains that the French themselves maintain a long history of anti-Semitism and believe every disaster can be traced back to the Jews. His imagined dialog with a Frenchman goes something like this:
“You felt pain for 9-11? Did you? Of course, that’s because you’re a Jew. The Jews caused 9-11, because the U.S. is a Zionist country. … You felt bad about the bombings in England? Of course, because you are Jew. It was Israel’s fault because the Arabs are so frustrated by the occupation of Palestine. …”
He continues, unabated, through every natural disaster or terrorist attack. It is relentless, and ridiculous, but then that is the point. How could someone possibly conclude that the Jews caused the tsunami? It is that same, Old World paranoia that created and perpetuates the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the blood libel or today’s conspiracy theory that the “neo-cons” or the “Israel lobby” pushed the U.S. into war in Iraq and is pushing for war in Iran.
It is what Karsenty refers to as “skeptisemitism” – calling into question the validity of a Jew’s word or position because he is Jewish, and therefore not a reliable source. This skepticism of Jews is what motivates left-leaning Jews to prove their credentials to French leftists by being the ultimate leftists, not to be outdone by anyone. Consequently, all the lawsuits, according to Karsenty, have been brought against him by fellow Jews.
The calm before the storm
According to Karsenty, the status of Jews has been declining in France, especially since the most recent intifada. The French media, he asserts, have been covering up attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions out of fear of their Arab/Muslim population.
While many people familiar with the al-Dura video wrote it off as a fake a long time ago, no such thing has occurred in France. The current socio-political climate in Paris suggests anything but a clear-cut trial for Karsenty. In fact, according to Karsenty, the France 2 reporter, Enderlin, received a letter from Ehud Olmert’s spokesman, Raanan Gissin, refusing to challenge France 2’s position that the al-Dura video is real.
Clearly, something is amiss if France 2 cannot produce footage of the “death throes” of Mohammed al-Dura, but without a political figure or another media outlet supporting Karsenty, he hasn’t got much leverage in a French court. The Muslims do not want to let go of the iconic image of Mohammed al-Dura, and neither do the French.
Cinnamon Shenker is a freelance writer who writes a monthly travel column and is currently studying to be a sign-language interpreter. She has a degree in writing from the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television.